China has rolled out a rocket into the cushion to send three astronauts from the desert up to the core module of its new Tianhe space station, though the launch date is still a mystery.
A 203-foot (62-meter) long March 2F rocket was vertically transferred to the pad at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert early Thursday (October 7).
On top of the rocket is the spacecraft Shenzhou 13, which will lead the three astronauts into orbit. At the top of the payload is visible an escape launch system that can quickly lead the spacecraft away from the rocket in the event of an emergency early in flight.
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The crew has not yet been announced, but is expected to be the backup crew for the recently completed Shenzhou 12 mission.
If true, it would see astronauts Zhai Zhigang, Wang Yaping and Ye Guangfu fly to the Tianhe space station module, which was launched in April and has so far hosted a three-month crew mission. This would be Yes’s first flight; Wang would become the first female astronaut to visit Tianhe.
However, the mission’s launch window has not yet been announced. Liftoff will coincide with a pass by Tianhe over Jiuquan, allowing Shenzhou 13 to catch up and dock with the module hours later. Airspace closure announcements may be the first clear signal of when the mission will begin.
Once aboard the 54-foot-long (16.6 m) Tianhe module, the crew is expected to stay for up to six months as part of the construction and verification phase of China’s space station project. This visit would double China’s current record duration for human space mission, recently set by Shenzhou 12.
Tianzhou 3, a cargo ship, docked with Tianhe on September 20, delivering nearly 13,230 pounds (6,000 kilograms) of supplies, supplies, experiments, and equipment to the Shenzhou 13 mission.
The rocket for the mission is the 13th long March 2F. It is China’s first to be prepared for both emergency rescue and launch. The rocket had been vertically assembled and was in a state of near readiness at Jiuquan since the launch of Shenzhou 12 in June. It would have been able to start at short notice in case of an emergency in circuit.
“The advantage of vertical transfer is that the rocket and spacecraft could maintain their technical status after testing in the technical area, thus minimizing the state’s transition while saving test preparation time for the launch area,” said Liu Feng, deputy chief designer for Long March 2 Rocket, told CCTV .
Also Chinese space guards noticed in press release photos released by the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA) that the next Long March 2F, for Shenzhou 14, had been assembled in the vertical integration building at Jiuquan, meaning it will be on standby in case of emergencies.
The facilities at the launch site are in good condition, according to CMSA. Pre-launch function checks and joint rocket and spacecraft tests will be performed as part of the launch preparations.
The mission will be the fifth of 11 planned missions to build the Chinese space station. Two new modules called Mengtian and Wentian will start and join Tianhe in orbit in 2022.
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